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Home -> Arthur Conan Doyle -> The Hound of the Baskervilles -> Chapter 2 - The Curse of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles - Chapter 2 - The Curse of the Baskervilles

1. Chapter 1 - Mr. Sherlock Holmes

2. Chapter 2 - The Curse of the Baskervilles

3. Chapter 3 - The Problem

4. Chapter 4 - Sir Henry Baskerville

5. Chapter 5 - Three Broken Threads

6. Chapter 6 - Baskerville Hall

7. Chapter 7 - The Stapletons of Merripit House

8. Chapter 8 - First Report of Dr. Watson

9. Chapter 9 - The Light Upon the Moor

10. Chapter 10 - Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson

11. Chapter 11 - The Man on the Tor

12. Chapter 12 - Death on the Moor

13. Chapter 13 - Fixing the Nets

14. Chapter 14 - The Hound of the Baskervilles

15. Chapter 15 - A Retrospection

"I have in my pocket a manuscript," said Dr. James Mortimer.

"I observed it as you entered the room," said Holmes.

"It is an old manuscript."

"Early eighteenth century, unless it is a forgery."

"How can you say that, sir?"

"You have presented an inch or two of it to my examination all
the time that you have been talking. It would be a poor expert
who could not give the date of a document within a decade or so.
You may possibly have read my little monograph upon the subject.
I put that at 1730."

"The exact date is 1742." Dr. Mortimer drew it from his
breast-pocket. "This family paper was committed to my care by Sir
Charles Baskerville, whose sudden and tragic death some three
months ago created so much excitement in Devonshire. I may say
that I was his personal friend as well as his medical attendant.
He was a strong-minded man, sir, shrewd, practical, and as
unimaginative as I am myself. Yet he took this document very
seriously, and his mind was prepared for just such an end as did
eventually overtake him."

Holmes stretched out his hand for the manuscript and flattened it
upon his knee.

"You will observe, Watson, the alternative use of the long s and
the short. It is one of several indications which enabled me to
fix the date."

I looked over his shoulder at the yellow paper and the faded
script. At the head was written: "Baskerville Hall," and below in
large, scrawling figures: "1742."

"It appears to be a statement of some sort."

"Yes, it is a statement of a certain legend which runs in the
Baskerville family."

"But I understand that it is something more modern and practical
upon which you wish to consult me?"

"Most modern. A most practical, pressing matter, which must be
decided within twenty-four hours. But the manuscript is short and
is intimately connected with the affair. With your permission I
will read it to you."

Holmes leaned back in his chair, placed his finger-tips together,
and closed his eyes, with an air of resignation. Dr. Mortimer
turned the manuscript to the light and read in a high, cracking
voice the following curious, old-world narrative:--

"Of the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles there have been
many statements, yet as I come in a direct line from Hugo
Baskerville, and as I had the story from my father, who also had
it from his, I have set it down with all belief that it occurred
even as is here set forth. And I would have you believe, my sons,
that the same Justice which punishes sin may also most graciously
forgive it, and that no ban is so heavy but that by prayer and
repentance it may be removed. Learn then from this story not to
fear the fruits of the past, but rather to be circumspect in the
future, that those foul passions whereby our family has suffered
so grievously may not again be loosed to our undoing.

"Know then that in the time of the Great Rebellion (the history
of which by the learned Lord Clarendon I most earnestly commend
to your attention) this Manor of Baskerville was held by Hugo of
that name, nor can it be gainsaid that he was a most wild,
profane, and godless man. This, in truth, his neighbours might
have pardoned, seeing that saints have never flourished in those
parts, but there was in him a certain wanton and cruel humour
which made his name a byword through the West. It chanced that
this Hugo came to love (if, indeed, so dark a passion may be
known under so bright a name) the daughter of a yeoman who held
lands near the Baskerville estate. But the young maiden, being
discreet and of good repute, would ever avoid him, for she
feared his evil name. So it came to pass that one Michaelmas
this Hugo, with five or six of his idle and wicked companions,
stole down upon the farm and carried off the maiden, her father
and brothers being from home, as he well knew. When they had
brought her to the Hall the maiden was placed in an upper
chamber, while Hugo and his friends sat down to a long carouse,
as was their nightly custom. Now, the poor lass upstairs was like
to have her wits turned at the singing and shouting and terrible
oaths which came up to her from below, for they say that the
words used by Hugo Baskerville, when he was in wine, were such as
might blast the man who said them. At last in the stress of her
fear she did that which might have daunted the bravest or most
active man, for by the aid of the growth of ivy which covered
(and still covers) the south wall she came down from under the
eaves, and so homeward across the moor, there being three leagues
betwixt the Hall and her father's farm.

"It chanced that some little time later Hugo left his guests to
carry food and drink--with other worse things, perchance--to his
captive, and so found the cage empty and the bird escaped. Then,
as it would seem, he became as one that hath a devil, for,
rushing down the stairs into the dining-hall, he sprang upon the
great table, flagons and trenchers flying before him, and he
cried aloud before all the company that he would that very night
render his body and soul to the Powers of Evil if he might but
overtake the wench. And while the revellers stood aghast at the
fury of the man, one more wicked or, it may be, more drunken than
the rest, cried out that they should put the hounds upon her.
Whereat Hugo ran from the house, crying to his grooms that they
should saddle his mare and unkennel the pack, and giving the
hounds a kerchief of the maid's, he swung them to the line, and
so off full cry in the moonlight over the moor.

"Now, for some space the revellers stood agape, unable to
understand all that had been done in such haste. But anon their
bemused wits awoke to the nature of the deed which was like to be
done upon the moorlands. Everything was now in an uproar, some
calling for their pistols, some for their horses, and some for
another flask of wine. But at length some sense came back to
their crazed minds, and the whole of them, thirteen in number,
took horse and started in pursuit. The moon shone clear above
them, and they rode swiftly abreast, taking that course which the
maid must needs have taken if she were to reach her own home.

"They had gone a mile or two when they passed one of the night
shepherds upon the moorlands, and they cried to him to know if he
had seen the hunt. And the man, as the story goes, was so crazed
with fear that he could scarce speak, but at last he said that he
had indeed seen the unhappy maiden, with the hounds upon her
track. 'But I have seen more than that,' said he, 'for Hugo
Baskerville passed me upon his black mare, and there ran mute
behind him such a hound of hell as God forbid should ever be at
my heels.' So the drunken squires cursed the shepherd and rode
onward. But soon their skins turned cold, for there came a
galloping across the moor, and the black mare, dabbled with white
froth, went past with trailing bridle and empty saddle. Then the
revellers rode close together, for a great fear was on them, but
they still followed over the moor, though each, had he been
alone, would have been right glad to have turned his horse's
head. Riding slowly in this fashion they came at last upon the
hounds. These, though known for their valour and their breed,
were whimpering in a cluster at the head of a deep dip or goyal,
as we call it, upon the moor, some slinking away and some, with
starting hackles and staring eyes, gazing down the narrow valley
before them.

"The company had come to a halt, more sober men, as you may
guess, than when they started. The most of them would by no means
advance, but three of them, the boldest, or it may be the most
drunken, rode forward down the goyal. Now, it opened into a broad
space in which stood two of those great stones, still to be seen
there, which were set by certain forgotten peoples in the days of
old. The moon was shining bright upon the clearing, and there in
the centre lay the unhappy maid where she had fallen, dead of
fear and of fatigue. But it was not the sight of her body, nor
yet was it that of the body of Hugo Baskerville lying near her,
which raised the hair upon the heads of these three daredevil
roysterers, but it was that, standing over Hugo, and plucking at
his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast,
shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal
eye has rested upon. And even as they looked the thing tore the
throat out of Hugo Baskerville, on which, as it turned its
blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them, the three shrieked with
fear and rode for dear life, still screaming, across the moor.
One, it is said, died that very night of what he had seen, and
the other twain were but broken men for the rest of their days.

"Such is the tale, my sons, of the coming of the hound which is
said to have plagued the family so sorely ever since. If I have
set it down it is because that which is clearly known hath less
terror than that which is but hinted at and guessed. Nor can it
be denied that many of the family have been unhappy in their
deaths, which have been sudden, bloody, and mysterious. Yet may
we shelter ourselves in the infinite goodness of Providence,
which would not forever punish the innocent beyond that third or
fourth generation which is threatened in Holy Writ. To that
Providence, my sons, I hereby commend you, and I counsel you by
way of caution to forbear from crossing the moor in those dark
hours when the powers of evil are exalted.

"[This from Hugo Baskerville to his sons Rodger and John, with
instructions that they say nothing thereof to their sister

When Dr. Mortimer had finished reading this singular narrative he
pushed his spectacles up on his forehead and stared across at Mr.
Sherlock Holmes. The latter yawned and tossed the end of his
cigarette into the fire.

"Well?" said he.

"Do you not find it interesting?"

"To a collector of fairy tales."

Dr. Mortimer drew a folded newspaper out of his pocket.

"Now, Mr. Holmes, we will give you something a little more
recent. This is the Devon County Chronicle of May 14th of this
year. It is a short account of the facts elicited at the death of
Sir Charles Baskerville which occurred a few days before that

My friend leaned a little forward and his expression became
intent. Our visitor readjusted his glasses and began:--

"The recent sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville, whose name
has been mentioned as the probable Liberal candidate for
Mid-Devon at the next election, has cast a gloom over the county.
Though Sir Charles had resided at Baskerville Hall for a
comparatively short period his amiability of character and
extreme generosity had won the affection and respect of all who
had been brought into contact with him. In these days of nouveaux
riches it is refreshing to find a case where the scion of an old
county family which has fallen upon evil days is able to make his
own fortune and to bring it back with him to restore the fallen
grandeur of his line. Sir Charles, as is well known, made large
sums of money in South African speculation. More wise than those
who go on until the wheel turns against them, he realized his
gains and returned to England with them. It is only two years
since he took up his residence at Baskerville Hall, and it is
common talk how large were those schemes of reconstruction and
improvement which have been interrupted by his death. Being
himself childless, it was his openly expressed desire that the
whole country-side should, within his own lifetime, profit by his
good fortune, and many will have personal reasons for bewailing
his untimely end. His generous donations to local and county
charities have been frequently chronicled in these columns.

"The circumstances connected with the death of Sir Charles
cannot be said to have been entirely cleared up by the inquest,
but at least enough has been done to dispose of those rumours to
which local superstition has given rise. There is no reason
whatever to suspect foul play, or to imagine that death could be
from any but natural causes. Sir Charles was a widower, and a man
who may be said to have been in some ways of an eccentric habit
of mind. In spite of his considerable wealth he was simple in his
personal tastes, and his indoor servants at Baskerville Hall
consisted of a married couple named Barrymore, the husband acting
as butler and the wife as housekeeper. Their evidence,
corroborated by that of several friends, tends to show that Sir
Charles's health has for some time been impaired, and points
especially to some affection of the heart, manifesting itself in
changes of colour, breathlessness, and acute attacks of nervous
depression. Dr. James Mortimer, the friend and medical attendant
of the deceased, has given evidence to the same effect.

"The facts of the case are simple. Sir Charles Baskerville was in
the habit every night before going to bed of walking down the
famous Yew Alley of Baskerville Hall. The evidence of the
Barrymores shows that this had been his custom. On the 4th of May
Sir Charles had declared his intention of starting next day for
London, and had ordered Barrymore to prepare his luggage. That
night he went out as usual for his nocturnal walk, in the course
of which he was in the habit of smoking a cigar. He never
returned. At twelve o'clock Barrymore, finding the hall door
still open, became alarmed, and, lighting a lantern, went in
search of his master. The day had been wet, and Sir Charles's
footmarks were easily traced down the Alley. Half-way down this
walk there is a gate which leads out on to the moor. There were
indications that Sir Charles had stood for some little time here.
He then proceeded down the Alley, and it was at the far end of it
that his body was discovered. One fact which has not been
explained is the statement of Barrymore that his master's
footprints altered their character from the time that he passed
the moor-gate, and that he appeared from thence onward to have
been walking upon his toes. One Murphy, a gipsy horse-dealer, was
on the moor at no great distance at the time, but he appears by
his own confession to have been the worse for drink. He declares
that he heard cries, but is unable to state from what
direction they came. No signs of violence were to be discovered
upon Sir Charles's person, and though the doctor's evidence
pointed to an almost incredible facial distortion--so great that
Dr. Mortimer refused at first to believe that it was indeed his
friend and patient who lay before him--it was explained that that
is a symptom which is not unusual in cases of dyspnoea and death
from cardiac exhaustion. This explanation was borne out by the
post-mortem examination, which showed long-standing organic
disease, and the coroner's jury returned a verdict in accordance
with the medical evidence. It is well that this is so, for it is
obviously of the utmost importance that Sir Charles's heir should
settle at the Hall and continue the good work which has been so
sadly interrupted. Had the prosaic finding of the coroner not
finally put an end to the romantic stories which have been
whispered in connection with the affair, it might have been
difficult to find a tenant for Baskerville Hall. It is understood
that the next of kin is Mr. Henry Baskerville, if he be still
alive, the son of Sir Charles Baskerville's younger brother. The
young man when last heard of was in America, and inquiries are
being instituted with a view to informing him of his good

Dr. Mortimer refolded his paper and replaced it in his pocket.

"Those are the public facts, Mr. Holmes, in connection with the
death of Sir Charles Baskerville."

"I must thank you," said Sherlock Holmes, "for calling my
attention to a case which certainly presents some features of
interest. I had observed some newspaper comment at the time, but
I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the
Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch
with several interesting English cases. This article, you say,
contains all the public facts?"

"It does."

"Then let me have the private ones." He leaned back, put his
finger-tips together, and assumed his most impassive and judicial

"In doing so," said Dr. Mortimer, who had begun to show signs of
some strong emotion, "I am telling that which I have not confided
to anyone. My motive for withholding it from the coroner's
inquiry is that a man of science shrinks from placing himself in
the public position of seeming to indorse a popular superstition.
I had the further motive that Baskerville Hall, as the paper
says, would certainly remain untenanted if anything were done to
increase its already rather grim reputation. For both these
reasons I thought that I was justified in telling rather less
than I knew, since no practical good could result from it, but
with you there is no reason why I should not be perfectly frank.

"The moor is very sparsely inhabited, and those who live near
each other are thrown very much together. For this reason I saw a
good deal of Sir Charles Baskerville. With the exception of Mr.
Frankland, of Lafter Hall, and Mr. Stapleton, the naturalist,
there are no other men of education within many miles. Sir
Charles was a retiring man, but the chance of his illness brought
us together, and a community of interests in science kept us so.
He had brought back much scientific information from South
Africa, and many a charming evening we have spent together
discussing the comparative anatomy of the Bushman and the

"Within the last few months it became increasingly plain to me
that Sir Charles's nervous system was strained to the breaking
point. He had taken this legend which I have read you exceedingly
to heart--so much so that, although he would walk in his own
grounds, nothing would induce him to go out upon the moor at
night. Incredible as it may appear to you, Mr. Holmes, he was
honestly convinced that a dreadful fate overhung his family, and
certainly the records which he was able to give of his ancestors
were not encouraging. The idea of some ghastly presence
constantly haunted him, and on more than one occasion he has
asked me whether I had on my medical journeys at night ever seen
any strange creature or heard the baying of a hound. The latter
question he put to me several times, and always with a voice
which vibrated with excitement.

"I can well remember driving up to his house in the evening some
three weeks before the fatal event. He chanced to be at his hall
door. I had descended from my gig and was standing in front of
him, when I saw his eyes fix themselves over my shoulder, and
stare past me with an expression of the most dreadful horror. I
whisked round and had just time to catch a glimpse of something
which I took to be a large black calf passing at the head of the
drive. So excited and alarmed was he that I was compelled to go
down to the spot where the animal had been and look around for
it. It was gone, however, and the incident appeared to make the
worst impression upon his mind. I stayed with him all the
evening, and it was on that occasion, to explain the emotion
which he had shown, that he confided to my keeping that narrative
which I read to you when first I came. I mention this small
episode because it assumes some importance in view of the tragedy
which followed, but I was convinced at the time that the matter
was entirely trivial and that his excitement had no

"It was at my advice that Sir Charles was about to go to London.
His heart was, I knew, affected, and the constant anxiety in
which he lived, however chimerical the cause of it might be, was
evidently having a serious effect upon his health. I thought that
a few months among the distractions of town would send him back a
new man. Mr. Stapleton, a mutual friend who was much concerned at
his state of health, was of the same opinion. At the last instant
came this terrible catastrophe.

"On the night of Sir Charles's death Barrymore the butler, who
made the discovery, sent Perkins the groom on horseback to me,
and as I was sitting up late I was able to reach Baskerville Hall
within an hour of the event. I checked and corroborated all the
facts which were mentioned at the inquest. I followed the
footsteps down the Yew Alley, I saw the spot at the moor-gate
where he seemed to have waited, I remarked the change in the
shape of the prints after that point, I noted that there were no
other footsteps save those of Barrymore on the soft gravel, and
finally I carefully examined the body, which had not been touched
until my arrival. Sir Charles lay on his face, his arms out, his
fingers dug into the ground, and his features convulsed with some
strong emotion to such an extent that I could hardly have sworn
to his identity. There was certainly no physical injury of any
kind. But one false statement was made by Barrymore at the
inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round
the body. He did not observe any. But I did--some little distance
off, but fresh and clear."



"A man's or a woman's?"

Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice
sank almost to a whisper as he answered:--

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

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